When one mentions Roguelikes and the Nintendo Switch in the same sentence, it is not uncommon for the masses to roll their eyes. Even as an avid Roguelike fan, I am guilty of this myself. Oversaturation is not a strong enough word to describe the state of the eShop. Grotesquely engorged congestion may be a more accurate description. This naturally makes it difficult for genuinely good, interesting Roguelikes to stand out among the money-hungry rabble. Dungeon Of The Endless is the latest title to be thrown into the jittering horde. Bringing an intriguing mix of dungeon crawling and tower defense, does this brand-spanking new port of a five-year-old game warrant more than a cursory glance?
Death. So Much Death.
You begin your inevitably doomed venture through the dark catacombs with little more than a character selection screen, little context to what you are looking at, and even less context as to why you are doing it in the first place. Your frigate is destroyed, you escape on what appears to be some sort of lifepod, and you land somewhat unceremoniously on an unknown, surprisingly mechanical world. It is from here that you are given the tutorial which attempts to teach you the basics. Attempts is a very accurate word that should be immediately followed by – ‘and fails’. There is a complexity to Dungeon Of The Endless that requires some amount of understanding to fully appreciate, and the lackluster tutorial erects a fairly substantial barrier to entry – mostly due to the game being ball-bustingly difficult.
But being castrated by a Roguelike is not unheard of. In fact, many players have found themselves lacking after an initial boot-up of any game in the genre. So is Dungeon Of The Endless’ wall of pain worth traversing? Yes, absolutely. However, not for reasons you may think. The core gameplay has you controlling two (potentially more) characters, and directing them through a sequence of rooms in order to find the exit. As you advance through each floor, a greater number of enemies will begin to emerge from the metallic woodwork to put an end to your run. Each room contains a series of nodes, resources, interactables and/or NPCs (often of the enemy variety). You will quickly find that your characters alone are incredibly vulnerable to laceration, burning, and death Even a small group of enemies can end your run.
What Makes This a Tower Defence Game?
This is where the tower defense mechanics come into play. Those weird nodes I alluded to earlier allow you to expend resources to build various structures and defenses. These could be turrets, resource generation enhancers, buffers, or debuffers of various kinds. Each one has a tangible, and undeniable use to your progression, and deciding what you need, where you need it, and when you need it is a skill that must be learned with great haste. This will naturally result in you recognizing and constructing death rooms. You slowly advance through the dungeon, then book it back to your designated murder box and hope to whatever Deity Dungeon Of The Endless may or may not provide.
This cycle of hit and run, cat and mouse is great…at first. The truth of the matter is, the gameplay when viewed from this angle is shallow. You can only control what room your character is in, not how they actually move or attack. They are essentially mobile turrets. The tower defense mechanics are useful, but not massively engaging or deep as many of the genre’s best titles. But that is what the game intended, in an evil genius kind of way. It opened up it’s suspicious, oversized trench coat and flashed you with the idea that this combination is what the game was all about when in reality, it is so much more.
Dungeon Of The Endless, more than anything else, is a game entirely focused on, designed around, and executed as a complex resource management and worker placement game thinly, which is disguised and marketed as a plodding tower defense roguelike wombo-combo. The deceit is a risk that ultimately pays off in droves, as this complex system is what makes Dungeon Of The Endless so endlessly replayable…pun intended. Each floor may be jam-packed with resources, and flashy shiny bits and all kinds of doodads but there are significantly more rooms, meaning you are often starved of your lifeblood – comparatively. Every decision you make requires an understanding of what you need to do, what you want to do, the risks, and how you are going to allocate your finite stack of stuff.
Managing that finite stack of stuff is incredibly important. Enemies will spawn from unlit rooms, but cannot light every room. A defensible room can easily be overrun when the hordes get bigger, resulting in a slow retreat and the hope you have done enough to quell the gribblies. Then again, every room weaponized is a room not used for resource generation, so you can’t build as many defenses. It is a cycle that is both incredibly difficult to master, heck, even learn, but is utterly engrossing in a way that only a strategy game could provide. Of course, you have the most important resource of all at your disposal as well – your life. Whilst you only start with two happy-chappy’s, this number can increase, thus increasing your mobile damage output, resource generation, and combined pool of health. Like any resource, expending life in a cold, borderline sinister manner may be required to survive. It is all about the decisions, and those decisions can and will kill you.
Naturally, this means Dungeon Of The Endless is a very difficult game. So difficult that I got curb stomped multiple times within ten minutes of starting a run. Eventually, I survived for eleven minutes before hitting my then personal best of twelve. The game is unforgiving in every sense of the word and demands respect like no other game I have played this year. This could be a good thing, or a bad thing depending on what you consider fun. Personally, I like to be whipped into submission before rising up like a slightly bruised phoenix and making my abuser, my bitch. Admittedly, this didn’t actually happen during my time with Dungeon Of The Endless and that confession makes me a lesser man as a result. This crushing shame brought on by Roguelikes is typically offset by a consistent if slow, persistent progression system. This makes every run feel meaningful, even in defeat. Dungeon Of The Endless has very little to offer in that department. You will unlock a character here and there, maybe a new spaceship. These do more to add content than expand your repertoire of options or increase survivability. Therefore slogging through procedurally generated dungeons is the reward for slogging through procedurally generated dungeons. Player improvement is your badge of honor. This is fine in its own way, but that may not be enough of an incentive to continue playing when you are brutally murdered for the eighteenth time in a row.
Graphics and Sound
Now we have gotten all that silly gameplay fluff out of the way, let’s discuss the most important thing when it comes to reviewing a game – the presentation…obviously. Dungeon Of The Endless is flat out gorgeous. I am a sucker for modern pixel art and this is some of the best the industry has to offer. Everything from the environments, to the character models to lighting is just stunning. The color palette makes everything pop and really helps bring the horrifying concept of impending doom to life. This is supported by an equally wonderful soundtrack that mostly stays out of the way. Subtle and ambient, the game wants you to think about what you are doing, not to pump you with adrenaline. It works perfectly.
Dungeon Of The Endless is an elaborate, yet brilliant, ruse. A masterfully executed lie that understands not only the Switch’s pick-up-and-play nature but also how to engross a player in ways you would not expect.
You will die for hours on end before you get to the end, and when you get there, you will jump right back into the fray to do it all again. Sure the game is not for everyone, and it has some undeniable flaws that hold it back slightly, but if you are a fan of that special sadistic sauce, then this is a game you need on your handy-dandy hybrid.
DUNGEON OF THE ENDLESS IS RECOMMENDED
The game can be purchased digitally for PC via Steam or via the PlayStation, Nintendo or Microsoft Store for the PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch or XBox One.
If you would like to see more difficult games, One Step from Eden may have made our reviewer FerniWrites cry.
Many thanks go to the developer AMPLITUDE Studios for a review code for this title.
Support High-Quality And Detailed Coverage
Want to support the cost of us bringing you these articles or just buy us a coffee for a job well done? Click the Ko-fi button below. You can even find some digital goodies in our shop~!
Forged in the rainy wilds of northern England, I carved a path of mediocrity through generations and genres. My play style is often described as: “optimistically awful”.